What in blue hell is compelling Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks to deploy his defensive personnel the way he is? Sure, in today’s NFL, with passing games as dynamic as they are, teams are generally going to be in some kind of nickel alignment with five defensive backs (or even dime with six) most of the time. And Wilks did make his bones by coaching secondaries for years.
But I don’t think there’s ever been a team that’s essentially completely eschewed any sort of base look with seven defensive linemen plus linebackers to the extent Wilks has through the first two games of his NFL head coaching career. Like, not even occasionally or situationally will he do so.
In Week 2, none of their top five DBs — Patrick Peterson, Jamar Taylor, Budda Baker, Antoine Bethea, and Tre Boston — spent a single snap on the sideline in Los Angeles. There was nary one measly play in which they had three linebackers on the field.
Not even on the fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line when Todd Gurley scored just before halftime. Or two series later on the third down from inside the two when Gurley punched it in again. Never.
When they hosted Washington in Week 1, the Cards’ secondary quintet was on the field for an average of 77 of their 79 defensive plays (with reserve DBs Bene’ Benwikere and Rudy Ford in for a few snaps too).
While I’m not sure any team has ever been that base-averse, you’d think if a team were to make its way through a game in which they were literally always in nickel/dime, it would be because they jumped out to a big early lead, rendering their opponent to a game of passing all day to try and catch up.
But this has been the polar opposite! The Cardinals have been blown out in both their games, which would be very conducive to seeing a bunch of action on the ground. Indeed, both Los Angeles and Washington ran the ball more than they passed.
One could theoretically argue that at least in the Rams game, Sean McVay, as he’s wont to do, was in 11 (three-wide) personnel for every play. But even then, you still gotta generally recognize their increased incentive to run the ball and milk clock, especially in those aforementioned situations.
Week 1 was even more mystifying. Arizona was getting blown out and facing much less 11 personnel — Washington had an average of just 2.38 wide receivers on the field per play. Still, Wilks remained deathly allergic to not having a fifth DB on the field. So Alex Smith handed the ball to his backs 34 times, which yielded 168 yards.
Even in short yardage or goal line scenarios (and even while getting blown out), the Cardinals are stubbornly sticking with these light boxes that cause offensive lines to salivate. I’d say that’s gonna bite ‘em in the ass, but it already has.
Playing extra DBs a lot, even the majority of snaps, makes plenty of sense. However, there is a happy medium that exists and situational football to take into account — and the Cardinals’ future doesn’t seem all that bright if those concepts keep eluding their head coach.